Darfur Refugee Recalls Obama Chat

Lane Hartill visited Sudanese refugee camps in eastern Chad last week. CRS’ partner, Secours Catholique et Développement, manages three camps.

It’s been a while since Mahmoud has heard from his old friend, President Barack Obama.

“I sat under that tree and talked with him for half an hour,” says Mahmoud Anoor Hamed, a leader in Milé camp, a Sudanese refugee camp in eastern Chad. Most European leaders don’t get that kind of face time with Obama.

Sudan drilling

Mahmoud Anoor Hamed, a Darfur refugee, is a chief in Milé camp where more than 17,000 Sudanese refugees live. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

That was in 2006, when then-Senator Obama was on a two week trip across Africa. During his 90 minute visit to the camp, he wanted to find out what life was like for refugees. And Mahmoud, a Darfur refugee and one of the few English speakers in Milé camp, gave him an ear full. He said Obama was a good listener, a good question asker, and he made time for everyone.

When Obama visited there were just over 15,000 refugees. Now the camp has more than 17,257 refugees.

“With all the other stuff going on in the world right now, I may play some small part to remind people that the situation here is not resolved,” Obama was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times. “There is a lot of other activity that is competing for the world’s attention. It is important that these folks here are not forgotten.”

“We get a lot of visitors, journalists, donors,” says Hassan Yussuf Adam, another chief that met Obama. “But this man was a U.S. Senator, he had influence.”

Now he has even more. And that’s why Hassan and Mahmoud and other camp chiefs sent Obama a letter in February. They didn’t want to fall off his radar, so they informed him that the camp was no longer called Milé, but it’s now Barack Obama Camp.

Much of what Mahmoud wants Obama to fix are the problems in his homeland. But he soon rattles off needs in the camp: Better pay for the teachers, more medicine, new roofs for their houses. That’s a big problem, roofing. Girls and women have to go out and collect thatch, which doesn’t sit well with local Chadians. Women risk suffering violent harm or worse.

“I know he’s busy,” says Mahmoud smiling. He’s been following the world financial meltdown on Al Jazeera and the BBC’s Arabic service.

“I hope he offers money to NGOs,” he says. Before the financial crisis, which he’s been following on TV and BBC Arabic, NGOs were in better financial shape. “But now there’s a problem all over the world. NGOs can’t support all the problems of the refugees.”

If he can find the time, Mahmoud says, President Obama is welcome in Camp Obama anytime. They have a lot of catching up to do.

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One Response to “Darfur Refugee Recalls Obama Chat”

  1. DARFURI-AMERICAN IMPLORES PRESIDENT TO MAKE SUDAN A PRIORITY IN 2016 | Act For Sudan Says:

    […] 2006, as Senator Barack Obama, you sat down under a tree in a refugee camp in Chad with a Darfuri who […]

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